Bizarro World

On the TV show “Seinfeld” Elaine learns about Bizarro World from Jerry. See it here. I remember learning about Bizarro World from Adventure Comics. It was a cube-shaped planet called Htrae (Earth backwards), and there lived Bizarro Superman and several other Bizarro superheroes. In popular culture Bizarro World has come to mean “a situation or setting which is weirdly inverted or opposite to expectations.”

I don’t how many times recently I have commented to someone that we are living in a Bizarro World. How do I explain what I mean without being insensitive to someone or something. Let me give you an example that was mentioned to me yesterday at work. This comes from the category of truth is stranger than fiction. On August 16 of this year, the Babylon Bee which bills itself as “Your Trusted Source for Christian News Satire” offered this “fake” headline:

Pope Says He Will Address Sex Abuse Scandal Once He’s Finished Talking About Climate Change

On August 28, just eight days later, an interview by the Chicago NBC station with Blase Cardinal Cupich produced this real headline:

Cardinal Says Pope Has More Important Things to Address Than Abuse Scandal Like The Environment and Immigration

Bizarro World can show up in most any place. It is especially embarrassing when it comes from people who should know better. Yet, I wouldn’t be surprised if you come across a news story today that communicates bizarre.

It should concern us anytime Christians make bizarre news. How do we avoid “scandal” that is not for the case of Christ? As St. Peter says we should make sure that the only “bizarre” we are involved in is because we are judged for not going along with the ways of the world. The early Christians were considered bizarre because they rescued babies that had been left to die under bridges (an ancient form of post-birth abortion), or because they would stay in the cities in the plagues to care for their dying neighbors instead of fleeing for safety as their fellow citizens did.

We should seek to live that kind of bizarre. St. Paul gives us some instructions to live by in Ephesians 4:17-23 (NRSV).

Now this I affirm and insist on in the Lord: you must no longer live as the Gentiles live, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of their ignorance and hardness of heart. They have lost all sensitivity and have abandoned themselves to licentiousness, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. That is not the way you learned Christ! For surely you have heard about him and were taught in him, as truth is in Jesus. You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

If it’s for Christ and his kingdom then be bizarre! Just be sure it’s for Christ and his kingdom!

Bizarro World

Our Stomachs Tied in Knots

After the announcement of serious allegations against ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick at the end of July, many Catholics, myself included, wondered when the other shoe would drop. Well, you might say a boatload of shoes were dropped on Tuesday at the press conference of the Pennsylvania attorney general and his report on the abuse perpetrated by 300 priests on 1000 victims over the past 70 years in six dioceses of that state, that had been covered up by superiors, some of them, now in higher levels of church leadership.

As much as all of this creates knots in our stomachs, none of this can be swept under the rug–not now, not ever! We are seeing that while actual incidents of abuse/predation are down since 2002, there has been, in a sense, only a bandage applied to the gaping wound. For the Church to be healthy and holy, the wounds have to be sterilized and cauterized and there will most likely need to be some debriding and even amputation!

That will start with each one of us. Let’s confess where we’re complicit: not praying like we should, not living like we should, not having any noticeable difference between our lives as Christians and the pagan world around us. When we have taken care of our own household, we can call our leaders to account and we must.

Last evening I attended Mass at the Basilica in Philadelphia to celebrate the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. As I prayed with knots in my stomach I remembered that our Lady is the “undoer of knots.” Back in the second century St. Irenaeus in his classic work “Against Heresies” presents a parallel between Eve and
Mary, describing how “the knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. For what the virgin Eve had bound fast through unbelief, this did the virgin Mary set free through faith.”

We need the prayers and intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary in this time of great knots. Blessed Virgin Mary, take into thy hands today this knot. I beg you to undo it for the glory of God, once for all! In thy Immaculate Heart I place my hope! O Blessed Virgin Mary, undoer of knots, pray for us! In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

Our Stomachs Tied in Knots

An Open Letter to My Bishop

Your excellency,

Yesterday I witnessed the baptism of my newest godson in a parish in our diocese. What joy to stand with my wife and our godson’s parents and respond on his behalf the desire to be baptized and affirm the Creed. I lit his baptismal candle from the Christ Candle situated next to the baptismal font and I thought about the future our Lord has for this precious boy who bears the name of two of our stellar saints.

I know his parents would be thrilled if this little boy would discern a call to the religious life, especially to the priesthood. They will do everything possible to train up him up accordingly. As godparents, we are committed to pray, encourage, and model fidelity to Christ and his Church.

I have one son, eight grandsons, two godsons, and four other boys who have adopted me as “papa”. If any of them discerned a call to the priesthood I would be ecstatic! I don’t say this lightly—it is not an easy vocation to undertake, and all the more so when a priest is committed to follow in the steps of Christ himself, and adhere to the example of some of the amazing priests in our tradition and history—men like St. John Vianney, St. Padre Pio, St. Damien of Molokai, and Father Thomas Byles who died hearing confessions as the Titanic was sinking.

I have been blessed to have wonderful priests in my life to celebrate the Mass, to hear my confession, to confirm me, to convalidate my marriage, to bless my home and to offer spiritual direction. It is evident through their lives that they are committed to Jesus Christ and his Church, and to my growth in sanctification and final salvation. I would be honored to have any of these young boys follow in their steps and minister in the same way to their own generation.

Thank you, Your Excellency for your part in making possible the parish that I am part of and the priests who minister the Liturgy of the Word and Sacrament to us on a weekly, even daily basis.

But, Your Excellency, I do have a request to make of you—something that I hold in the very depths of my heart, that causes me to cry out before God when I am alone before him. You know the burden that these children would take up if they discern a call to the priesthood. And so I ask you for them, and for all the sons of Catholic mothers and fathers, grandfathers and grandmothers, godfathers and godmothers, that you be completely committed by the authority entrusted to you in the sacred office you hold, as successor to the apostles, to be vigilant for the spiritual well being and protection of these sons of the Church.

Leave no stone unturned  to protect our sons from predators who would try to derail them in their spiritual devotion to Jesus through attacks on their chastity. Predators have no place in our seminaries, and we hold you and the office of vocations directly responsible to weed out these destructive influences. (Also it would be helpful if you would make a statement to that effect to our diocese!)

Also, our sons love the Church in all of her liturgical and historic glories. Please make sure that these sons of the Church are not viewed with suspicion because they long to learn the beauty of the historical liturgies and practices, or because they are faithful to the doctrine and teachings of the one, holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

Your Excellency, I leave you with deep respect and high regard for your holy office and close with the words of St. Jude at end of his epistle:

But you, beloved, remember the words spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, for they told you, “In the last time there will be scoffers who will live according to their own godless desires.” These are the ones who cause divisions; they live on the natural plane, devoid of the Spirit. But you, beloved, build yourselves up in your most holy faith; pray in the holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in the love of God and wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. On those who waver, have mercy; save others by snatching them out of the fire; on others have mercy with fear, abhorring even the outer garment stained by the flesh.

To the one who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you unblemished and exultant, in the presence of his glory, to the only God, our savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord be glory, majesty, power, and authority from ages past, now, and for ages to come. Amen (1:17–25 NABRE).

You are in my prayers daily.

Respectfully yours in Christ,

Gary Wiley

An Open Letter to My Bishop

Equal Opportunity Seducer

One thing this summer has proven to me is that Satan is an equal-opportunity seducer to sin. A high profile, high-ranking churchman among U.S. Catholics has fallen in disgrace when his sexual peccadilloes were revealed, but not before much harm was done to the Church and her members. And then a very prominent evangelical pastor retired earlier this year and is now under scrutiny for things he allegedly did over the course of his long tenure as pastor of one of the best known churches in America.

We shake our heads in bewilderment, but deep down inside we understand the fragility of the sons of Adam’s race and the propensity to sin, especially if power and influence is attached to one’s station in the church and outside of it. Our merciful Lord took a very strong position on this matter: “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matthew 18:6 NRSV).

We make a grave error if we restrict our Lord’s admonition only to “little children” referring to their biological age. Anyone entrusted with spiritual oversight who abuses their position of leadership, authority and shepherding to do harm to another, physically, emotionally, sexually or theologically, Jesus has very harsh words and judgment for that person.

I shudder with the implications. I am currently a layman in the Catholic Church, but I spent 30-plus years as a pastor and missionary in the evangelical church. The opportunities for taking advantage of another in any of the ways listed above are always on Satan’s menu. What can we do to bring accountability and holiness to the church?

I am currently reading The Church: Mystery, Sacrament, Community, part four of Pope St. John Paul II’s Wednesday audiences on the Catechism. In his first presentation I came across these words:

“…we also profess that the Church of Christ is apostolic, that is, built upon the apostles, from whom she received the divine truth revealed by and in Christ. The Church is apostolic because she preserves the apostolic tradition and guards it as her sacred deposit.

“The authoritative guardians appointed to preserve this deposit are the successors of the apostles, assisted by the Holy Spirit. But without a doubt, all believers, in union with their legitimate pastors, and thus, the whole Church, share in the Church’s apostolicity. That is, they share in her bond with the apostles and, through them, with Christ. For this reason the Church cannot be merely reduced to the ecclesiastical hierarchy. The latter is, without a doubt, its institutional foundation. But all the members of the Church–pastors and faithful–belong to her and are called to play an active role in the one People of God, who receive from him the gift of being bound to the apostles and to Christ, in the Holy Spirit.” (emphasis mine)

You and I have a responsibility to assure that the Church is presented to Christ “without spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind.” We are called to pray, to fast, to be faithful in our own lives, and to pray especially for our pastors and bishops and not turn a blind eye in those occasions that the leadership of the Church and the people in the pews are indistinguishable from the corrupt world in which we find ourselves.

Jesus takes this very seriously and so should we!

Equal Opportunity Seducer

“Lord, to whom can we go?”

As I mentioned yesterday I came into the Catholic Church about 27 months ago. It has been quite the ride, and as I will describe in a later post, a definite sense of “coming home.” Yet, I did not come into the Church blindly or imagining that all was perfect on this side of the “Tiber” (a reference to the river in Rome that Protestants symbolically cross over to enter the Catholic Church).

Over the past several months there has been an increase in reports of sexual sins in the Church, especially attributed to prelates (ecclesiastics of a high order) and that have been allegedly covered up by them. As these reports come out it reminds me, first of all, that we are all sinners, even those who have risen in the ranks of the Church. But also, that God’s word is true: “Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit” (Galatians 6:7-8 NRSVCE).

The Church, the Bride of Christ, is called to “be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:27) and when that is not the case–from the person in the pew to the college of cardinals–when there is no discernible difference between the dominant culture and the conduct of those who claim to follow Christ–we can only expect St. Peter’s admonition to be applied, “For the time has come for judgment to begin with the household of God; if it begins with us, what will be the end for those who do not obey the gospel of God” (1 Peter 4:17 NRSVCE).

A few years ago, a good friend of mine went from having a green card to becoming a citizen of the United States. I congratulated him and then I said, “Now, you are part of the problem!” As I said earlier, I did not come into Catholic Church blindly, I knew there have always been challenges and need for reform, and thank God, the Holy Spirit has raised up men and women throughout the centuries to bring reform to the Church that Christ founded upon the Apostles: Benedict, Peter Damian, Francis of Assisi, Catherine of Siena, Teresa of Avila, Charles Borromeo, Philip Neri, among others.

We are all called to respond to Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit to live in such a way that we humbly sow to the Spirit so that we may reap eternal life from the Holy Spirit. Our time, our Church, our culture is looking to us. “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:13 NRSVCE).

In those moments of angst I’m reminded on this Sunday as we read the “Bread of Life” discourse, today and over the next few Sundays, that Jesus gave himself for the Church, he offers us life and we have the privilege of partaking of his Body and Blood in every Mass. Like Peter I say: “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68-69 NRSVCE).

“Lord, to whom can we go?”